Day 7: Carol of the Bells

I love Christmas songs; I was the kid who played Christmas music all year round. However, have you ever stopped to listen to the songs we sing or think about the fact that there are distinctly religious Christmas songs and distinctly secular Christmas songs? Let's look at some of these songs and the tradition of caroling.





On the 7th Day of Christmas, the Carolers Started Caroling

Introduction

I'm one of those people that listened to Christmas carols all year long. They're probably the only songs I learned to play by ear, and in trivia contests on carols, I almost always win. My Christmas playlist not only has almost every traditional Christmas song you can think of (along with some modern ones), but duplicates of these songs in various genres. Jazz, Hip-Hop, R&B, Country, Classical, even Reggae, can be found in my Christmas collection. My favorite Christmas carols are Patapan, What Child is This, and Carol of the Bells. We already talked about caroling being a remnant of Saturnalia, thus pagan, but there have always been secular songs and religious songs and God OK'd singing His praise throughout the Bible. Does this mean Christmas carols are ok despite their association to a pagan holiday?
O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.Psalm 95:1 KJV
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Lyrics

Lyrics are the important part, it the lyrics reflect God and His Word, then it should be acceptable to sing as praise to God. Some songs are obviously pagan (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town), but let's look at the lyrics to a few popular and traditional Christmas songs.

Silent Night

The lyrics of "Silent Night" are consistent with the Biblical story. I wouldn't save the song for the Christmas holidays as though December 25 is actually Jesus' birthday, but I don't see anything to suggest God would disapprove of the lyrics. (Note: in each of these paragraphs there is a link to the lyrics of the song so that you may examine them for yourself).
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The First Noel

One of the first songs I learned to play on the piano was "The First Noel." As I look back on the lyrics I see a few problems, all of which deal with "adding to" the story. As mentioned earlier in the series, we don't know when Jesus' birthday is so we don't know that the shepherds were out "on a cold winter's night"—even if Jesus was born in December, Bethlehem's latitude, there is a chance it may have been warm. Further, the song refers to "the wise men three." There were wise men, and they gave three gifts, but the Bible doesn't tell us how many wise men were there.[1] It could have easily been three gifts from a group of men, or a gift from each man. Why does it matter? God tells us not to add or subtract to His word in Revelation 22:18 and He commands us not to bear false witness. To sing of shepherds in cold weather and three wise; men when in fact it could have been scorching hot and there could have been 10 wise men is bearing false witness and adding to the word. We can only say that more than one wise man showed up and the shepherds were in the field; we shouldn't be adding in numbers and weather conditions.
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Deck the Halls

"Deck the Halls" definitely leans to the pagan origins of the holiday—the whole point of the song is merry making and the decorating of your house with garland which was a tradition of both Yule and Saturnalia. It also has the word "Yule" in the lyrics, further proving it errs toward the pagan.
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We Three Kings of Orient Are

Like "The First Noel," the problem with "We Three Kings of Orient Are," is that the tittle and first line of the song makes the idea of three wise men sound like fact. Another weird thing i see is the morbidity of one of the later verses:
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb
We Three Kings of Orient Are
Wait why is there "gathering gloom" when Jesus is born? Per the gospels Jesus didn't seem bothered by His fate until they entered the city for the Passover. How do we jump from His birth and joy so sorrow and a tomb? Even so, He wasn't sealed in the tomb because He was resurrected! When the women arrive the stone was rolled away. The next verse talks about Him arising, but I think its odd that they didn't stick to the topic. Why mix the joy of His birth with the bittersweetness of His crucifixion and resurrection?
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O Little Town of Bethlehem

O Little Town of Bethlehem is a beautiful song, probably landing somewhere in my top 5, yet even it has a questionable lyric. The lyric in question is the reference to Christmas. If the negative origin and etymology of Christmas (see the post "The Etymology of Christmas") is true, this is definitely a verse you'd want to leave out.
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Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

I've heard a many renditions of this song, and of course off the bat (from the Day 1 post) we know there may be a problem with the word Christmas which would pose a problem with this song's lyrics. In addition, the song uses the word "Yule," a reference to the pagan origins of Christmas, and never mentions Jesus or God. Obviously not a song God would approve.
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The Christmas Song

The lyrics to "The Christmas Song" not only mentions Yule and pagan traditions, it also mentions Santa and Jack Frost. There is nothing about Jesus or God in this song.
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Carol of the Bells

Carol of the Bells, though great in melody is not so great in lyrics. This is one of those Christmas songs that has nothing to do with Jesus, which is why He'd probably not approve. You'd be praising a pagan holiday and not praising Jesus. Also this song ends with the repetition of the phrase Merry Christmas, which is under question. Guess I'll not be counting this as my favorite carol anymore.
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God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

The lyrics of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" are fairly straight forward. The only questionable lyrics in the song contain the usage of Christmas.
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Patapan

I've always listen to only the instrumental of this song so I never knew the lyrics, but now I can see that its another favorite of mine that doesn't stack up when it comes to the lyrics, Patapan is a bit nonsensical, with references to Christmas day but no mentioning of Jesus and a reference to God that doesn't make much sense in the grand scheme of the song.
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Away in a Manger

When I think of "Away in a Manger," I think of a calming lullaby. It's a very sweet song with simple lyrics. The questionable part of this song is the "no crying He makes"—nothing in the Bible suggests Jesus didn't cry. This is another case of bearing false witness. It may seem harmless but the subliminal message may lead to bigger issues.
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God Christian Men Rejoice

Good Christian Men Rejoice is a declaration of Christ's birth. The lyrics do say "Christ was born today!" and we don't know what day He was born, but if you are singing the song year round and not committing to memory that He was born on a particular day it may be OK. This is one of those things I would suggest praying about and getting an answer directly from God.
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What Child Is This?

I would have placed "What Child Is This?" under songs with God-praising lyrics, but I wanted to mention why I was ok with this song jumping to Jesus' resurrection but was hard on "We Three Kings of Orient Are." To me, the flow of "What Child Is This?" makes sense, it is very obvious that the lyrics are telling you what will happen to Jesus in the future. However the switch seems very abrupt with "We Three Kings of Orient Are" and the chorus breaks up the thought getting to the fact that He rose for us. Also, this is only portion of the lyrics that looked questionable in "What Child Is This?" while "We Three Kings of Orient Are" also has the issue of declaring 3 kings, when actually there were an unknown amount of wise men (which may or may not have been kings).
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Songs With God-Praising Lyrics

The following songs have lyrics that praise Jesus, do not mention pagan traditions/holidays, and do not add extra details to the narrative.
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References

  1. Matthew 2

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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